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Death of a legend Swiss mourn leading suffragette, Marthe Gosteli



Marthe Gosteli, a pioneering women's rights campaigner

Marthe Gosteli, a pioneering women's rights campaigner

(Keystone)

Tributes have been pouring in for Marthe Gosteli, a leading figure in the Swiss women’s rights movement, who died last week in her 100th year. She helped lead the battle for universal suffrage in Switzerland, and took charge of documenting the struggle.

It was after Gosteli’s father died young, leaving her mother and sisters in charge of their farm near Bern, that she began to realise the inequities faced by working women in Switzerland. Gosteli was influenced by her mother, who was also a campaigner for women’s rights. 

Gosteli earned her own money, decided not to marry and have children, and dedicated herself to fighting for women to have the vote. But when campaigners took to the streets, the bourgeois Gosteli remained behind. “You have to take action, not demonstrate,” she explained to Swiss public television, SRF.

It was not until 1971 that Switzerland became the last country in Europe to give women the vote. This was because the country’s unique system of direct democracy requires a national referendum for constitutional change, so the rights of Swiss women were at the mercy of those who could vote – men. 

There are parallels between Gosteli and Nora, the central character in Petra Volpe’s new film, “The Divine Order”, which tells the story of the Swiss women’s rights movement.  (SRF/swissinfo.ch) 

Gosteli was persistent and dedicated to the cause: in 1982 she set up the Marthe Gosteli Foundation, which has been described as the most important archive of the Swiss women’s rights movement. 

Gosteli received recognition for her lifelong engagement: in 1995, the University of Bern made her an honorary doctor. In 2011 she won the International Society for Human Rights prize. The Gosteli Foundation received the 2017 culture prize from the citizens' association, the Burgergemeinde Bern.

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